Florida’s COVID positivity rate falls to 8.2% as CDC considers updating mask guidance

Many US cities, counties have readjusted COVID-19 restrictions as cases drop

Local coronavirus mask mandates remain in effect as Florida moves to phase 3 of reopening

ORLANDO, Fla. – As cases continue to drop across the U.S., the nation’s leading health officials said we are moving closer to the point that COVID-19 is no longer a “constant crisis.”

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the government is considering changing its mask guidance in the coming weeks.

“We all share the same goal – to get to a point where COVID-19 is no longer disrupting our daily lives, a time when it won’t be a constant crisis – rather something we can prevent, protect against, and treat,” she said.

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According to the Associated Press, one influential model estimates that 73% of Americans are, for now, immune to the dominant omicron variant. That could rise to 80% by mid-March. This will prevent or shorten new illnesses in protected people and reduce the amount of virus circulating overall, likely tamping down new waves. Hospitals will get a break from overwhelmed ICUs, experts agree.

As a result of a drop in cases, many cities and counties across the U.S. have rolled back their COVID-19 restrictions. Disney World announced this week it would make masks options for fully vaccinated guests in indoor and outdoor spaces. Face coverings will still be required by everyone 2 years and older on enclosed transportation services, including buses, monorails and the Disney Skyliner.

Publix employees will also no longer be required to wear face coverings, citing the decrease in COVID-19 cases. This new policy applies to all fully vaccinated employees except those required to wear masks under their job description or state or local ordinance, the website reads.

Lawyers representing a Florida family of a 4-year-old boy with autism said they have received a temporary court order from a federal judge exempting him from having to wear a mask when flying from Florida to Boston for treatment. An emergency hearing was held this week after the lawyers said two airlines and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declined to grant a mask exception for the boy.

The Florida Senate unanimously passed a nearly $109 billion spending plan Thursday with virtually no debate the day after the House passed a $105 billion plan after two hours of contentious debate over whether to punish schools that had mask mandates last summer. The two sides now have until March 8 to agree on a budget to send to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis if they want to finish the annual 60-day session on time.

Dubbed the “Putting Parents First Adjustment,” the plan is aimed at reducing money going to the school districts in Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Indian River, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Sarasota and Volusia counties.

The districts defied an executive order that DeSantis issued in July to try to prevent schools from requiring students to wear masks. The prohibition on mask mandates was effectively cemented in state law during a special legislative session in November.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Below is a breakdown of Florida COVID-19 data reported by the state on Feb. 18:

Cases

The Florida Department of Health reported 42,473 new cases on Friday that occurred between Feb. 11 and Feb. 17, bringing the state’s overall total to 5,775,171 cases since the virus was first detected on March 1, 2020.

Deaths

Florida reported 161 new virus-related deaths Friday from the past week but the cumulative death toll of 68,902 actually shows there have been 1,330 new deaths added to the state total. The state has not provided any information as to when these deaths occurred.

The state stopped reporting the number of non-residents who died in Florida with its new weekly reporting method.

Hospitalizations

The state Agency for Health Care Administration deleted its current COVID-19 hospitalization database and the state is no longer reporting how many patients have been hospitalized with the virus. However, Florida is still required to report that information to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the CDC continues to release that information online. The most recent hospital numbers show 4,162 adult and 98 pediatric patients in Florida.

Positivity rate

The DOH reported the percent of positive results from coronavirus tests was 8.2% but did not provide how many people were tested during the past week. Health officials say the rate should remain between 5% and 10% to prove a community has a hold of the virus and is curbing infections.

Vaccinations

The Florida Department of Health began releasing a daily report in December 2020 on COVID-19 vaccines administered throughout the state. In the new weekly reports, the state is combining the vaccination data with the COVID-19 infection numbers.

FDOH reports 15,379,508 have received at least one dose of the vaccine against COVID-19, this is about 74% of the state.

During the past week, 16,036 new people have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Central Florida region

The state is no longer providing a breakdown of county-by-county deaths or hospitalizations as of June 3. The Florida DOH is also no longer providing county numbers for non-residents who have tested positive, causing the total case numbers to drop significantly, in some counties by more than 1,000 cases.

For example, with non-resident positive cases as of June 3, Orange County had reported a total of 143,198 but with the state’s new reporting method, the county has 141,941 total cases, a difference of 1,257 positive cases.

Below is the Central Florida region breakdown of new cases and new vaccination numbers between Feb. 11-Feb. 17.

CountyTotal cases as of Feb. 17New cases since Feb. 11Total people vaccinatedPercent of 5+ population vaccinated
Brevard131,3911,310407,69470%
Flagler21,95720478,42270%
Lake83,315820248.14869%
Marion82,253708224,50963%
Orange369,6783,0271,055,47877%
Osceola111,6331,021311,29883%
Polk197,3901,514448,93766%
Seminole102,106839322,18970%
Sumter21,144351102,80776%
Volusia114,8331,006348,31966%

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About the Author:

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined ClickOrlando.com in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.